Uncomfortably Numb is a Worthwhile MS Memoir

Meredith O’Brien’s fourth book, Uncomfortably Numb, may be her most important work. It is an intimate, generous memoir about living with MS that will guide newly-diagnosed patients and their loved ones through difficult challenges.

O'Brien acts as a tour guide for people with MS

As a caregiver, I appreciated O’Brien’s role as a tour guide through the labyrinth of a seemingly healthy individual experiencing early symptoms of MS to the ultimate diagnosis and its consequences. The journey is not one of clinical observations that many MS patients and loved ones can check-off as they proceed through the book. It is a personal diary of the frustration, doubts, worries, and grievances of almost any MS patient.

The MS symptoms came at a hectic time

O’Brien’s symptoms arrived at a particularly inconvenient time. She had just given birth to her third child. Both of her parents had taken ill. And O’Brien, a successful reporter and novelist in her forties, was juggling a part-time teaching gig with her obligation to write a nonfiction book about a high school jazz band using music to deal with grief.

Never-ending fatigue

The author vividly recalls the onset of her first symptoms. She fell asleep halfway through Bryan Cranston’s engrossing performance as Lyndon Johnson in the film, All The Way. O’Brien describes the days and weeks that followed as a “never-ending sense of fatigue weighing me down like a heavy blanket.”

Doctors were reluctant to diagnose MS

Although O’Brien is an enthusiastic fan of the Boston Red Sox, her early medical team smacks more of the 1962 Mets. Despite O’Brien’s classic MS symptoms, her doctors initially believe that her numbness and fatigue are psychosomatic. Even after an MRI shows a lesion, O’Brien’s neurologist is reluctant to diagnose MS because it is only one lesion─better to wait and see if another one makes an appearance.

Common concerns for people with MS

O’Brien tackles several issues that MS patients commonly confront: health insurance concerns; the MS Hug─that tightening sensation that presses on the abdomen and the back; dealing with personal and family adversity while suffering MS symptoms; and, questioning one’s identity. The author, who teaches journalism at Northeastern University, is especially concerned over the effect that MS can have on mental acuity.

A readable and relatable memoir

Fortunately, O’Brien’s reporting and creative writing tools remain intact. She transports us through the dread in a manner that is thoroughly readable and relatable. But what is most striking is the author’s generosity with her emotions and the expression of her life philosophy.

O’Brien laments that she was supposed to live a normal life. “I used to be an optimist,” she confesses. “I’m not anymore.”

Uncomfortably Numb captures life with MS

But this is where I must quarrel with the author: to be a Red Sox fan is to be an optimist. “One of my favorite views of the world,” O’Brien says, “is the one you get when you walk up the ramp which takes you from inside the concrete Fenway Park concourse to the ballfield. When you lay your eyes on the majestic, manicured grass, it seems to rise toward the heavens in front of you.”

Uncomfortably Numb is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Like life itself, it is a bit of both.

Uncomfortably Numb is available on Amazon.com and ThriftBooks.com

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